Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

Sports announcers crack me up. No sooner had Marcelo Balboa and the other guy finished talking about how Kahn was calling the German goalkeeper Lehman “flawless” and they were fawning over his three shutouts than Argentina takes a corner kick and heads it “flawlessly” into the back of the onion bag.

Talk about the ultimate jinx. These announcers were just begging for that goal to be scored. To be fair, Balboa (who I do think does some of the best color other than Tommy Smythe) did say that Lehman had been just as lucky as he was “flawless.” That was a great moment. I look forward to seeing the replays of that. I hope the commentary is kept with it as well.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first 5 or 6 days of the World Cup. I watched a good bit of it on my computer while I worked using ESPN 360. This is the video solution that ESPN offers through a select group of broadband ISPs. So, your ISP is basically picking up the tab for the increased features and bandwidth concerns for the live streaming and hosted, taped content.

ESPN 360 was delivered by its own custom Windows app, which certainly had its negative points, but for the most part worked very well. The video streamed quickly, was clear and the app had little to no issues with crashing or memory/resource hogging.

That all changed with ESPN’s release of their new 360. It is now a browser-based app taking advantage of Flash 8.0’s new video capabilities and things have gone downhill. One of the most noticeable things is that the quality of the video is much lower. This is true of both live and recorded content. There are often stutters and hangups with both kinds of content as well.

There are further issues with the interface. There is no way to “pin” the application window to “always be on top” of your desktop. So, if you watch it while working and want it to float above other windows while you work away, it’s impossible without 3rd-party solutions. This was a feature of the previous player application with a little “pushpin” icon.

The interface also features some sort of auto-scroll thing that moves the content from left-to-right based on where your cursor is within the window. This occurs to display extra content such as headlines and other “interactive” content. I appreciate ESPN’s desire to push more of their programming and, thereby, advertising, but this auto-scroll only gets in the way.

The most egregious addition to ESPN 360 has been the addition of advertising at the beginning of every clip. As a service for which my ISP pays ESPN, I don’t think it reasonable that ESPN subject me to advertising while I am using a paid service. They’ve added banner ads to the screen, as well. This is less objectionable than having to sit through the same commercial 5 times during a 20 minute show because the video has to be restarted 5 times forcing you to watch the commercial again each time.

I used the “Feedback” feature in the player to voice these concerns to ESPN, but since the form didn’t ask for an email address, I can’t expect that they will get back to me in any way. I hope that this post will serve as a message to the developers and executives at ESPN that in striving to do the cool, new thing, they have ruined the user experience. Making these changes at a time when so many users are using ESPN 360 to watch the World Cup seems like an ill-advised move.

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Bruce Arena has buried US soccer for another 5 years. By sticking to non-producing veteran players in a 4-5-1 scheme that had failed to score a goal so far in the World Cup, Bruce Arena negated any of the young talent he had on the field. His inept management, on the field and in the press room, has set back the adoption of soccer as a national pasttime in this country for at least another 5 years.

We were on the verge of an explosion of soccer in the national consciousness, but that’s all out the window now. By not scoring even one goal in the World Cup, Arena’s US side has proven what the naysayers in this country have thought all along: soccer is boring. Arena made it that way. They won’t see the excitement and glory that the Ghanians are enjoying, but that’s another story altogether.

Landon Donovan needs to stick to the MLS and hope that he can continue to be the best player in that league, because he has no chance on the world stage. He absolutely disappeared in this cup. Sure, the 4-5-1 scheme didn’t help, but even on the set pieces, he couldn’t get the ball into the box on a dare. He and Beasley can just play kickups in the park for spare change for as much good as they did this team.

Let’s replace them with Johnson and Wolf and see what happens. Please, try anything Bruce. It’s clear that what you were doing doesn’t work.

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The Argentinians are dismantling the Serbians. Their first two goals have been wonderful antidotes for the late-game heroics common to the last 6 matches of the World Cup.

In the last few matches, it seems that goals have come at a premium and even then only in the last 10 minutes of the game. The Argentinians are finally giving us a glimpse of the “beautiful game.” Hopefully, there’s more of this to come.

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Don’t let the score fool you. Those two goals were scored against a worn out and flagging TNT team. Yes, the English finally scored a goal. Yes, Rooney finally got to play. Yes, the English advance to the second round. However, it all seems like an accident, like they’ve narrowly skittered by.

There are lots of ways to look at this. One is that if you are going to play poorly, the first two game are the best time. That’s when you are more likely to be facing lesser opponents, just as England has. Despite all this talk about their poor play, they’ve won two game, have six points, and are moving on to the second round of the World Cup.

The second way to look at this is that they are playing down to their opponents. This means the opponents are, to some extent, dictating the game that the English bring to the pitch. That can be positive but a really good team can manipulate that weakness and make you play your very worst.

At any rate, I feel bad for Shaka Hislop, the TNT goalkeeper. He had a fantastic game against Sweden, was playing well against England, then an unstoppable Crouch header got past him. It was really a full on defensive breakdown and not totally his fault. The second goal was definitely his and he knew it. He was looking to be a star of the Cup and I think he certainly drew some more attention to himself. Maybe West Ham will give him a raise.

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The following is what I wrote around the 90th minute of the KSA/TUN match. That was before the stoppage time. That was before Radhi Jaidi crushed the spirits of millions of Saudis and lifted the hearts of millions of Tunisians. I don’t think his 92nd minute goal changes the spirit of what I wrote about the drama of soccer. Instead of Al Jaber becoming the center of every story written about this match, he becomes one or two graphs and Jaidi becomes the star. It’s sport at its truest. The idea of fate and that exquisite moment for which we all search.

That’s World Cup drama. Down 1-0 at the half, the Saudis come out and get the equalizer relatively quickly. They dominate the second half of the game in possession, shots, and sheer energy.

Then the masterstroke. At the 80th minute, the manager decides to sub in Sami Al Jaber, who is the wizened old man of Saudi soccer. The man has played in four World Cups and is arguably the best player to ever come out of Saudi Arabia. Prior to this, the manager has put in two strikers already. He is going for the win. The Saudis will not be content with a 1-1 tie and only 1 point facing what looks to be a dominant Spanish team, judging from their 4-0 dismantling of the Ukraine earlier in the day.

So, Al Jaber enters the game, has a slight touch at midfield and a minute later, a beautiful through pass finds him streaking down the left side. He’s in behind the back line of the Tunisians who are miles away from him. He faces down the Tunisian goalie and calmly, yet authoritatively pushes low to the far post. It’s bedlam for the Saudi fans.

That’s the drama that fans of soccer hope for at the World Cup. The manager is lauded as a genius. A great player gets maybe a final moment in the sun and all seems right in the world.

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The Croatians have had plenty of chances. The Brazilians seem to want to give them a way back into the match. The Brazilian coach finally had to take fatty, fatty Ronaldo out since he was just walking around the pitch. No sense in playing with 10 men. It’s sad to see someone with so much talent done in by something so easily worked on like fitness.

If it is your job to be in good shape and you get paid millions and millions to be in shape, how hard can it be to do that? Maybe he was carrying an injury, but in that case, he should have been taken out much, much earlier. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much midfield play, just a lot of back and forth attacking.

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The score belies how much control the Croatians have shown over the Brazilians. They have a great defensive scheme that was only really broken one time–for the goal.

The Croatian captain has gone off the pitch with an injury. I don’t know if that means much from a leadership standpoint. If the U.S. captain, Claudio Reyna, went off with an injury, it might just do the team a favor, so captaincy is sometimes a little overrated. On the other hand, having an experienced, calm persona on the pitch when the Brazilians start doing all of their crazy moves and amazing technical tricks is a good thing as well.

What’s clear is that the Croatians aren’t star-struck or suffering from stage fright. They need a strong fifteen coming out of the half and they could snag a quick goal and be right back in this match. It’s nice to see that the Brazilians are as human as many were postulating.

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Barthez with the sun in his eyes makes an amazing reflex save as the Swiss are really pressuring the French. You can feel the pressure mounting on the French now. They want the result on this. They need the result. A tie is a loss to the French fans. The Swiss fans would lose their minds with a tie. It would be a celebration on par with what Trinidad and Tobago had against Sweden.

At this point, Switzerland seems to be dominating almost all aspects of the match. It’s an impressive showing. Some silly fouls and yellow cards on the French side. They are clearly losing patience.

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The French Ribery is unfortunately unselfish and passes to Henry in the box when he should have shot. An uncalled handball saves a French goal. As I said earlier, the Swiss defense is beginning to show some holes. <insert pun here>

A little clarification on the handball calls. There is room for the referee to determine if the player put the hand in a position to give himself an advantage or not. If he did not do it on purpose, then the referee can choose a no-call.

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